By Carol Glatz
Be joyous, authentic and loving while resisting fly-by-night commitments, catty gossip and sleek cars, Pope Francis told future priests, brothers and nuns.
Vocations don’t come from catchy campaigns or pursuing personal goals; the consecrated life is the result of prayer and answering an “unsettling” yet loving invitation from God, he told some 6,000 seminarians and men and women who were considering religious life.
Men and women from 66 nations came to Rome on a four-day pilgrimage as part of the Year of Faith celebrations, which included an informal audience with Pope Francis July 6 and a papal Mass July 7.
The pope spent more than 45 minutes speaking off-the-cuff to a packed audience hall, giving young and old a thorough how-to guide on the secrets of a successful vocation.
Some of the greatest dangers standing in the way of a happy religious life are materialism and a culture that believes nothing is forever, he said.
Even religious men and women have to avoid the temptation of thinking “the latest smartphone, the fastest moped and a car that turns heads” will make them happy, he said.
He said it pains him when he sees a nun or priest driving an expensive car, and he praised the beauty of the bicycle, noting his 54-year-old personal secretary, Msgr. Alfred Xuereb, gets around on a bike.
However, with all the work to be done and distances to be covered, cars are a necessity, he said. Just “get a humbler one,” and if the flashier model still looks tempting, “think about how many children are dying of hunger,” he said.
True joy doesn’t come from things or “living on the edge,” having wild, fleeting experiences, he said.
“It springs from an encounter, a relation with others, it comes from feeling accepted, understood and loved, and from accepting, understanding and loving” others, he said.
Jesus is telling people: “You are important to me, I love you and I’m counting on you,” the pope said.
Opening up to this love and divine call is “the secret of our joy,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of showing the joy of having answered the Lord’s call,” he said, “and of giving witness to his Gospel in service to the church.”
Joy is contagious, he said, and attracts people to learn more about the source of that happiness.
“Please, no nuns or priests with the face of a pickled pepper,” he insisted. “There is no holiness in sadness.”
The source of that dissatisfaction and sadness is not celibacy, the pope said; it’s living a consecrated life that is sterile and lifeless. Nuns and priests are called to be spiritual and pastoral mothers and fathers, bringing life, healing and love to all they meet.
The pope pointed to a petite, elderly nun whom he had spared from the crush of an overexuberant crowd pressing down on her as they sought to shake the pope’s hand before the audience.
The pope had told a guard to lift her from the fray and give her a front-row seat, safe from the scrum. He said in his talk that he was struck by the sister’s bright eyes and smiling face, despite the difficulties of being squeezed against the barricade, and said she was a beautiful example for everyone.
The pope also told everyone to always be clear and honest with their confessors. Jesus already knows people’s sins, defects and limits, “he just wants you to tell him what he already knows.”
Truth and transparency “do good because they make us humble.”
Don’t be hypocrites, and practice what is preached, he added.
“In this world in which wealth does harm, it’s necessary we priests, we nuns, all of us are consistent with our poverty,” he said.
Midway through his talk, the pope told the event’s main organizer, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, that he could go on all night, but that someone had better bring everyone “a sandwich and Coca Cola if it goes until tomorrow.”
The pope then highlighted the importance of living as a community and avoiding petty gossip and rivalries.
The pope said he was guilty and ashamed of being caught up in gossip and complaining. He said ideally he preferred speaking directly to the people he has a problem with or with someone who can resolve the issue, never talking behind people’s backs “to smear them.”
He urged everyone to be contemplative, pray the rosary and be a missionary, reaching out to the outcast and disadvantaged.
The next day, Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope used his homily to offer additional encouragement and wisdom for a happy vocation.
“The paschal mystery” of death and resurrection help shelter religious men and women “from a worldly and triumphalistic view” of their mission and “from the discouragement that can result from trials and failures.”
Effective evangelization can’t be measured by the human notions of success and failure, but only “by becoming conformed to the logic of the Cross of Jesus” of giving oneself totally and completely with love, he said.
Vocations come from prayer because it is God who chooses his disciples, not “advertising campaigns or appeals of service and generosity.”
Prayer also gives the strength and direction needed to be a courageous, loving apostle.
And finally, the pope said, never see one’s vocation as a job. It’s a relationship with God that requires constant cultivation, being united with Christ, especially “amid the whirlwind of more urgent and heavy duties,” he said.
“What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life,” the Lord’s cross, he said. – CNS